The annual cycle of sinking into depression during the winter months can be hard to deal with, you know it is coming, but you feel powerless to avoid it. There is little we can do about the weather but there are many things we can do to alleviate the impact it has and many types of seasonal depression treatment.
Not everything will work for everyone, but have a look at the below and evaluate what might work for you. Knowledge is power!
Seasonal Depression Treatment – Changing the Environment
You can modify your home environment to bring in more light outside of light boxes. Install more lights in the ceiling or put more lamps in the room, wash windows, trim hedges around the home, remove low lying branches. Use bright colours and surfaces too.
Take vacations in the winter rather than the summer if you can. Two weeks somewhere sunny in January breaks up the worst stretch of winter.
You could of course relocate although this is obviously not an easy thing to do, but if your seasonal affective disorder is that severe then a move to a sunnier climate could make a world of difference to you.
Exercise and SAD
Exercise should always be part of the overall plan for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
There are huge amounts of evidence that regular exercise has a beneficial effect on improving the mood of those who suffer from depression in general. It isn’t surprising then that research also shows that exercise is helpful for people with SAD as well.
Combining exercise along with light therapy can be hugely beneficial – light therapy will keep you motivated to exercise and the exercise will be good for your mood and weight control.
The most important thing is to find something you enjoy. Don’t choose an exercise regime based upon the amount of physical exertion it gives you. If you choose something you enjoy you are for more likely to stick at it.
Do whatever it takes to resist the temptation to be a couch potato when you have SAD and do something to keep your body active during the winter months, as you will feel better for it.
Diet and SAD
People with SAD often have an appetite for foods rich in carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta, cookies and doughnuts. These foods give you a short mood boost, but within an hour or two leave you feeling hungry, lethargic and irritable again.
There is a growing feeling now that limiting the amount of carbohydrate rich foods can be of real benefit if you are suffering from SAD. If you eat carbs then avoid foods that contain pure sugar and white flour, ie minimizing white bread and pasta as well as potatoes and white rice.
Herbs, Vitamins and Supplements
The problem with supplements these days is that there are so many different tablets, vitamins, fish oil extracts, herbal remedies, etc, etc that it is difficult to work out what really makes a difference and what doesn’t.
You can make arguments for many of them, but essentially the majority of experts universally agree there are a handful that are beneficial, namely:
Fish oil extracts (concentrates of omega-3 fatty acids) – suggested amount: 2 grams per day
Calcium citrate – 1,260 milligrams per day
Vitamin D3 – 5,000 units/day (varies from person to person though)
Multivitamin – 1 per day
Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for cardiac function and may have a beneficial effect on depression and bipolar.
Vitamin D3 is a hugely important vitamin. Many of us are deficient in it as we use sunscreen to quite sensibly protect our skin from sunburn and skin cancer – but it can also render us deficient in this essential vitamin.
There is much evidence to suggest the worth of St. John’s Wort and many people take it to good effect. However one problem if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder and are considering using it is that it makes the skin extra sensitive to the sun.
Also watch out for marijuana and alcohol!
One of the advantages of having SAD (if you can call it an advantage!) is that at least you can predict at what times of the year your energy level will be low – meaning things you could get done at other times of the year easily you will struggle with in the winter.
Of course some stresses you can’t plan for, but many you can do – buying a house, moving, starting a new job, take on extra responsibilities, setting spring deadlines or delivery dates at work, etc. Try and plan these for the summer months when you will be feeling better.
If you are in the position you could also pay for help and services in the winter to reduce stress. So the money you aren’t spending socializing like you would in the winter could go towards paying others for help with difficult chores, like cleaning the house, take your clothes to the laundry, etc, etc.
Negative ions occur in nature near waterfalls, the surf or after a rainstorm and research shows that there might be genuine scientific basis behind the theory that they can actually improve the mood.
A study at Columbia Psychiatric Institute tested the effects of negative ions on patients with SAD. They found that sitting in front of a negative ion generator for 30 minutes each morning produces as powerful an antidepressant effect as sitting in front of a 10,000 lux light box for the same duration.
So you may want to consider obtaining a negative ion generator as another approach to treating your SAD.
Sometimes just accepting that we can’t be happy and operate at peak level all the time can be therapeutic. Not placing such unreasonable demands on ourselves can lead to a greater measure of contentment.
As Spring arrives try to remember that the problems aren’t over, keep in mind that it will most likely reappear in the fall, but try to enjoy the time you have where you feel well and can operate at full capacity.
CBT for SAD
There are a number of types of psychotherapy for SAD, but the one with the most evidence as to its effectiveness is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which, generally, is effective for treating depression in general.
So what is CBT? It is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Essentially you can learn to short-circuit the negative thinking patterns and turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. As simple as it sounds this is achieved through practice and can be hugely effective.
SAD can become a vicious cycle, where the behaviours make the symptoms worse. So you sleep late which prevents you from taking in early morning light, which makes your SAD worse. Or you might avoid social engagements which makes you feel further isolated and depressed. CBT involves thinking of these behaviours that contribute to your SAD symptoms and working out ways to correct them.
CBT therapists use the A-B-C Model. A is the event (well it actually stands for antecedent), B is the belief the event produces and C is the consequence of the event. What CBT does is try to catch the intervening thought between the event and feeling and working on changing that thought.
Another treatment for SAD is antidepressant medication, and since SAD is a form of depressant there is every reason to expect they would work – and they do.
There is often a concern that instead of alleviating their symptoms an antidepressant will change them for the worse, but this isn’t the case and rarely happens. Additionally antidepressants are not addictive.
There are some side effects of antidepressant medication of course and they can include sedation, weight gain, dizziness, sexual difficulties and constipation, dry mouth, urinary retention and blurred vision – but remember the chances of you experiencing even one of these symptoms is low.
If you do need to stop taking an antidepressant it should be tapered rather than stopped immediately.
A medication that is regularly used is Wellbutrin. This works by influencing dopamine, this helps you feel motivated and satisfied, and norepinephrine, which increases alertness and energizes.
A number of medications are also used that produces serotonin, which is important for inducing a calm, good mood and reduces impulses such as displays of bad temper. These include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa, Lexapro and Viibryd.
Antidepressants frequently work, but of course you need a thorough consultation with your doctor before you go any further and he will be able to tell you if they are suitable for you.
Meditation can give you benefits all year round, not just in the winter. There are numerous forms of meditation and if one form doesn’t work, try another. You need to practice meditation regularly for a while, ie a few months, before you have an idea if you are likely to benefit or not.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) was introduced to India and the West in the middle of the 19th century. It’s name ‘transcendental’ is based on the state of consciousness its practice induces – notably a blissful sense of calm.
After a session of TM levels of the soothing hormone prolactin increase in the bloodstream. Levels of prolactin also increase in the bloodstream when people rest at night in the dark. There is evidence that explains how the regular practice of TM can induce calmness and improve efficiency.
TM can also decrease stress, which is of importance to people with SAD, for whom even small challenges can feel highly stressful during the dark winter days.
Mindfulness can also be extremely useful. This is simply the constant awareness of what is going on within oneself and outside. Observing events on a moment-by-moment basis without judgement and accepting what can’t be changed and staying connected with the present. As simple as it sounds it does take practice.
Mindfulness techniques have been found to alleviate depression and anxiety as well as helping people prevent relapse following successful treatment of their depression.
Then of course there is light therapy! Most people benefit from light therapy (around 80%) it is relatively cheap to get a light box and the results are generally rapid.
Essentially there are many different approaches you can take to help cope with seasonal depression. A first step involves the recognition that the difficulties you might be experiencing are symptoms of an illness. Not flaws in your character.
Exercise moderately and regularly in a way you enjoy. If you can find a companion to join you. Diet sensibly and consider a low carbohydrate diet. Limit stresses and don’t make commitments during your summer highs that you won’t be able to keep in the winter. Keep your eye out for new and innovative treatments.
But also accept that you cannot change the fact you have SAD, but consider all of the treatments above because using one or more of them could make a big difference to your SAD and whilst it will never be cured you could feel a heck of a lot better in the winter than you do now.